Friday, October 23, 2015

Me on What We Left Behind

Title: What We Left Behind
Author: Robin Talley
Release Date: October 27, 2015
Publisher: Harlequin Teen

Toni and Gretchen are the couple everyone envied in high school. They've been together forever. They never fight. They're deeply, hopelessly in love. When they separate for their first year at college—Toni to Harvard and Gretchen to NYU—they're sure they'll be fine. Where other long-distance relationships have fallen apart, their relationship will surely thrive. The reality of being apart, however, is a lot different than they expected. As Toni, who identifies as genderqueer, falls in with a group of transgender upperclassmen and immediately finds a sense of belonging that has always been missing, Gretchen struggles to remember who she is outside their relationship. While Toni worries that Gretchen, who is not trans, just won't understand what is going on, Gretchen begins to wonder where she fits in Toni's life. As distance and Toni's shifting gender identity begins to wear on their relationship, the couple must decide—have they grown apart for good, or is love enough to keep them together?

What We Left Behind is a look at the growing up people do when they move away to college, when they're given the chance to figure out who they are with complete strangers. A look at relationships and how glamourous they are in the beginning, but things change over time. A look at identity and how labels don's always work for everyone.

Toni and Gretchen, apart for the first time in a while, are off to that wild and wonderful world known as college. They're coming face to face with new settings, new people, and new ideas. But they still want to be together. They still love each other. It's hard for them, being apart. Then life pushes its way between them. Then Toni meets some new people, starts thinking about what it is to be genderqueer, to be seen as a girl or a guy. Then Gretchen feels lost, supportive but kept in the dark. And the two learn relationships are harder than they thought.

I think this is a look at gender, sexuality, and identity. At the different ways we see ourselves and how we want other to see us when those defining qualities fall outside the 'standard' male/female binary. It's easy to support Toni, to follow Toni along as Toni navigates being genderqueer and being around others who are genderqueer and transgender. But it felt like Toni was identifying as genderqueer because Toni wasn't yet confident enough to identify as trans. I didn't think that's what genderqueer meant. Toni was so negative at times, thinking that Gretchen wouldn't understand, that Toni's sister wouldn't understand, that it was easier to hide. But these are my assumptions as a cisgender woman. While they're all I have, they don't excuse how wrong I could be in reading Toni's character. All I can do is listen and learn.

I can't say that I've ever been in the same situations that Toni and Gretchen were in, but I can certainly empathize with their struggle to figure out who they are and how to support those they love when they're going through something that they haven't. There's no right or wrong way to be gay or lesbian or bisexual, to be genderqueer or transgender. It's all up to you whether or not you want to use certain pronouns. It's okay to question who you want to be, who you want to present to the world. It's okay to have questions, and it's okay to be frustrated when you don't understand.

(I received an e-galley of this title to review from Harlequin through NetGalley.)

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